A minimal UX strategy for side-projects – Prototypr

Photo by Patrick Perkins on Unsplash

As a product & experience designer, I get to work with many clients. Many of them are super early stage products. These ventures are usually at an early stage. They don't have many resources or the luxury of going through lengthy UX processes & practices. However, that is no reason to completely omit the UX design process. The same applies to side-projects and smaller products on tight deadlines.

After learning and refining from several projects. I created a simple 3 step process to embed the user experience and user-centric design into any product. Following is a simple 3 step process I advise for people with little to no resources dedicated to UX design.

NOTE: This is not a UX guide or the right way to do UX design. It's just a very small subset of UX design practices, organized to speed-up the product life-cycle.

Step 1: Product Story

What are stories?

Stories are a simple way of determining how a product fits into its user's life. A story should include actors (users), agents (products) and usually a before and after scenario. All these components combined in a narrative gives you a clear idea of how your product fits into the user's life.

How to write a product story?

This article is all about finding actionable insight with minimum time/resource investment. Emma Coats shared a great way of creating the story for early stages of storyboarding at Pixar. It goes like this:

Once upon a time there was ______. Every day_______. One day ______. Because of that, ______. Because of that, ______. Until finally ______.

You fill in the blanks with data relevant to the product you're making. I am working on a product for designers, here is what the story looks like:

Once upon a time there was a graphics designer. Everyday he used to create new stuff and share it on many showcase websites. One day he found a product called limelight, which allowed him to share & keep track of how much attention his work in getting from a single place. Because of that, he was able to share on many sites in an instant and learn about how each platform is getting him views, likes and comments. Because of that, he was able to improve his work and produce more quality work. Until finally his work got acknowledged by a large design firm and he received an offer letter from them.

It's not perfect, but it tells you a lot about the concept without using too many words. I never found a better way to explain my idea to someone.

What are the advantages of creating a story around product?

  1. It forces you to stay in the right direction.
  2. It helps to avoid the feature-trap (ie. features gets priority over the core product)
  3. It makes it very easy to explain the concept to everyone (especially new people who will be working on your product at a later stage)
  4. Reinforces why you are creating something in first place.

Step 2: Personas

what are personas?

You probably know about personas already. They're used widely in design and sales. In this framework, we make personas very simple and intuitive. How? think of personas as actors in the story you wrote earlier. Personas have two core requirements:

  1. Each persona should fit well in the story as an actor.
  2. Each persona should represent a group (or simply type) of a user.

How to create a persona?

Usually, we include a lot of information about a persona and give it a visual identity. For this framework, we use a simple template to create our personas.

Make sure you talk with a few target users before filling in personas, don't assume

Most of the fields are pretty self-describing. We don't need to be too detailed about the information we put in here. It's more about quality of data than the quantity — make sure you talk with real users before creating personas.

You can also include a numeric index of what percent of total user base each type of personas cover (or any other index that gives you a sense of priority of each persona).

What are the advantages of creating personas?

  1. It gives you a prioritized list of your target audience.
  2. It embeds empathy in the process by including users in the process..
  3. personas can be used to put yourself in shoes of your customers.

Step 3: User stories/Epics

What are user stories?

At this point, we have a story and a few personas to go with the story. The next step is to do a walk-through the product using our personas.. This time the focus should be on the interaction with our users and our product.

How to create user stories?

Here is what a single case looks like

As a ______ , I want to _______. So that ______ …

We start with actions/features that will be common for all our user types first, eg. Onboarding, checkout etc.

After that, we can get into more details and create cases specific to certain personas. All this can be summarized into a good ol' spreadsheet like following:

Just some sample data, notes are for any additional stuff you want to remember

Unlike the first two sections, I ask founders/team to spend a little extra time on creating these epics and be thorough about all interactions. If created with keeping all possible user actions in mind, this single document can function as entire development roadmap for your product.

What are the advantages of creating user journeys?

  1. Gives you an actionable roadmap of all things to be done in a product.
  2. Can be broken down into tasks/to-dos for development.
  3. Provides you a single document with all the user interaction in one place.

With this document, you can start wireframing and exploring possible solutions. Going in high-fidelity and development, these epics can directly translate into tasks (work to be done) and it plays really well with agile development and development sprints as well.

I have recommended this flow to many founders, side-project makers as well as few startups with teams as well. They saw good results from this approach in a short timespan. Some startups are using this very same method with their own twists at a feature level. I'd love to talk about it in a post sometime later.

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